Recently media, activists and keyboard warriors have cherry-picked examples of controversial police activity to present coppers as enemies of the general public. These examples are usually mobile phone footage of police handling a person where context is missing. In a minority of cases there is a genuine case of police misuse of power. Keyboard warriors then use these small number of cases to make sweeping generalisations about all police.
My father was formerly a long-serving Queensland police officer. No doubt some of the graduates of keyboard warriorism will immediately dismiss this article thinking that I must be biased. He was a hero of the Fitzgerald Inquiry. I know police corruption and brutality exists and do not approve of or justify either.
For this article, some of what will be discussed will be in the Australian Aboriginal context, given the recent and not-so recent activity of the Black Lives Matters Movement and their local ‘Blacktivist’ puppet followers.
Blacktivists have spent much time critising police and accusing them of being a serious threat to Aboriginal people. Criminal Justice statistics are clear on who the real threat to black lives are and it’s not white men in blue shirts. It’s ironic that blacktivists, when hearing white fellas discussing Aboriginal experiences quickly say; “Walk a mile in my shoes before you express an opinion about us.” Yet it’s common practice for them to criticise police and provide advice from behind their keyboards on how violent criminals should be apprehended. This without ever having walked in police shoes.
Walk in a beat officer’s boots. There are the expected and predictable frustrations. Busting your guts and risking your life to put dangerous criminal behind bars, only to have the court throw the case out based on a technicality. The unpleasant task of telling parents that their child has been killed; the long hours and ever-changing shift work, a problem I clearly remember of my father. There is attending accidents and heinous crimes where bloody bodies have been mangled; and there is the verbal abuse by ignorant onlookers who simply have no idea of what the job of a police officer is like.
Having graduated from Facebook police academy where blood and sweat are virtual, the blacktivist keyboard warriors will say “well that’s what they get paid for.” That’s fair enough. If they were the only problems police face, I would agree. However, all police officers of more than five years’ experience know colleagues who have died or been killed in the line of duty. Each day police go to work, they know it could be their last. Also consider that it’s part of their job to run towards situations that most of us would run away from.
Consider what a police officer’s internal state is like wondering if the subject could be concealing a weapon? Police frequently have to deal with ambiguous events that can be life-threatening, requiring split-second decision making. Further, consider what it must be like when making these decisions under intense circumstances, knowing that their actions are going to be closely scrutinised by people who have the luxury of ample time to examine their every move. Too many scrutineers have agendas other than justice in mind and few face any real consequences if they get it wrong.
It’s about reasonable expectation. Under these conditions, can we expect police to get it right every time? They get it right far more often than when they get it wrong, but are those times reported on the social media? We’ve all seen the footage where several police are engaged in rough handling of someone not cooperating. First of all, how many of us can honestly say when we have done something wrong and hoped nobody would know about it, we enjoyed it being brought to our attention? Now consider when a person has engaged in illegal, suspicious, or dangerous activities, for which they know they will be punished if they got caught. How likely is it that when intercepted by the police, they are going to say: “Thank you officer, I am grateful for your intervention here, and I am looking forward to what is coming to me under the law”? We already know the answer. Such individuals are very likely to resist, and do so very aggressively.
In the case of Aboriginal people, when one of them is hurt or killed by a police officer, there is the usual outrage, that is in part, fueled by the myth that Aboriginal people in custody are more likely to die than non-Aboriginal people in custody. It’s a lie. When I see this outrage, I ask “why do I not see similar outrage when Aboriginal people intentionally kill Aboriginal people?” Only some black lives matter. The well-rehearsed response is: “Well police have a duty of care.” Just think about this for a moment. Are these activists implying that there is no duty of care for each other? If there is another interpretation, please share it.
Current Aboriginal culture seems to be a synthesis of the worst of pre-contact and modern Western culture, ignoring the beauty of traditional culture and rejecting the best of what both cultures shared, like a duty of care towards family and community members. If this old shared duty of care was upheld, those individuals would be less likely to find themselves in situations where police intervention is required.
It will be some time before we have robocops who are programmed to never make mistakes. Until then, we can make it easier for police, ourselves, and others, by obeying the law. Provide police with the respect they once had before the social media explosion. Be grateful that we have police who put their lives on the line to serve and protect. When given an instruction by police, just follow it; no cheekiness, no ambiguous gestures, just cooperation. If the police have acted inappropriately, inform the courts, police bosses or an independent investigator rather than fighting. That’s not hard is it?
Dr Anthony Dillon is a part-Aboriginal Australian, social scientist, and commentator on Indigenous affairs. More of his work can be seen at Australians All at the Crossroads.
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